Spring arrives with plenty of snow and ice on lakes
Spring has arrived on the calendar, but there is still a lot of ice and snow left on the lakes in the Bemidji area.
The melting process has been nice and slow so far, with overnight temperatures dropping below freezing most nights.
It only takes a couple of consecutive nights with temperatures above freezing to bring vehicle traffic on the ice to an abrupt halt.
The extended forecast predicts overnight temperatures to remain below freezing for at least the next several days, so anglers should be able to continue accessing most lakes with their vehicles through this weekend.
Many of the lakes in the Bemidji area still have more than 30 inches of ice, so anglers may need an extension on their power auger to drill through the ice.
Fishing has been good on many of the panfish lakes in the Bemidji area recently. The hottest perch bite has been on Leech Lake, with anglers catching good numbers of jumbo perch in many parts of the lake.
The drop in the walleye population in Leech Lake helped boost perch numbers in the lake, similar to what happened to crappies in Red Lake when the walleye numbers dropped. The sunfish and crappie populations are also strong in Leech Lake.
Perch fishing on Lake Winnibigoshish has been slower than normal this winter, partially due to poor age classes of perch in 2000 and 2002, which reduces the number of harvestable size perch in the lake.
Other perch lakes in the Bemidji area include most of the larger lakes like Bemidji, Blackduck, Cass, Pike's Bay and Plantagenet.
Crappies and sunfish have been active in many of the smaller lakes in the Bemidji area.
The spring walleye season on the Rainy River and Four Mile Bay of Lake of the Woods runs from March 1 to April 14, regardless of when the ice goes out. There were still vehicles driving on parts of the Rainy River this week, so open water is still a long way away.
Anglers are typically able to get their boats into the Rainy River sometime between the last week in March and the first week in April. It could be a short window of opportunity for anglers this spring if the current weather patterns continue.
There is always some open water in the Rainy River close to the dam on Rainy Lake near International Falls.
Some walleyes spawn farther up river than others and will run up the Rainy River under the ice. Most walleyes wait until after the main flow of ice chunks slows down before heading into the river to spawn.
Fishing in Lake of the Woods has been picking up for anglers fishing the extended season for walleyes, sauger and northern pike.
Emerald shiner minnows are the main forage species for walleyes in Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, which makes them a good choice for bait. Rainbow chubs are a good alternate choice for anglers unable to get emerald shiners.
Jigging spoons or jigging minnows are often the best presentation for walleyes in because of the limited visibility in Lake of the Woods.
Anglers can fish more aggressively with jigging lures and fish can feel vibrations in the water further out than they can actually see the bait in stained water.
Anglers using sonar have a distinct advantage because they can see the fish coming through, so they know how they are responding to their jigging technique.
If the walleyes don't hesitate and charge right in and engulf your lure, then you know you are doing everything right.
If the fish are hesitant and take several looks at your lure before turning it down, there may be something slightly wrong with the lure, the bait or the jigging technique.
It may only take switching from a minnow head or tail to the entire minnow to make the difference.
If the fish come in and take one look and leave, then something more drastic may be wrong and several changes may be needed to trigger more strikes.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.